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The Story of The Campden Wonder
In August 1660, William Harrison, estate manager to Baptist Hicks, set off on foot for Charingworth in order to collect rent owed to his master. However, as he had not returned by dusk, Harrison's wife, becoming worried for his safety, despatched Harrison's man servant, John Perry to look for him.
By daybreak, however, neither Harrison or his servant had returned. Getting increasingly distressed, Harrison's wife sent out her son, Edward Harrison, in the direction of Charingworth to enquire about his father's movements the previous night. On the way to Charingworth, Edward met John Perry, coming in the opposite direction. When questioned, John Perry told Edward that his master, William Harrison, was not there. So, together they went to the nearby village of Ebrington. At Ebrington, they were told by one of the tenants that Mr Harrison had called at his house the previous evening on his way back from Charingworth. Edward Harrison and Perry then proceeded to Paxford, where they were unable to find out any news about Mr Harrison. At that point, they then headed back towards Chipping Campden.
On their way back, they came to hear that a hat, shirt, collar and comb had been found on the main road between Ebrington and Campden, near a large bank of gorse. Finding the hat and comb slashed and the shirt collar covered in blood, they immediately started to search the area, assuming that Mr Harrison had been killed.
On returning to Campden, the news of this discovery caused great alarm; so much so, that the men, women and children of the town took it upon themselves to search for the body. Meanwhile, back at the Harrison's home, his already distressed wife now feared heavily for her husband's safety.
As Mr Harrison had been sent to collect rent money, many townsfolk started to suspect that John Perry had killed his master and stolen the money. Perry was brought before a Justice of the Peace, who questioned him about his master and why he had stayed out all night when sent to find him. Perry's version of events were that after his mistress had sent him to meet Mr Harrison, he headed towards Charingworth, where he met a man called William Reed. Reed asked him where he was going, to which he replied that he was going to Charingworth to find his master; but as it was now getting dark he was afraid to go on and was going to return to Campden and fetch a horse belonging to his master's son, Edward. He walked with Reed back to Campden, where Reed then left him at his master's gate. From that point, Perry said that he entered his master's hen roost and had stopped there until the church clock had struck twelve o'clock. He then left the hen roost and walked back towards Charingworth, getting lost on the way due to heavy mist and ending up spending the rest of the night sleeping under a hedge.
The next morning, he proceeded onto Charingworth, where one of the tenants told him that Mr Harrison had been with him the previous afternoon collecting his rent, but did not stop long. Perry said that on leaving Charingworth, he then met his master's son, Edward, and had gone back to Ebrington and Paxford.
Perry was questioned further and then remanded in custody in Campden. Whilst in custody, Perry finally indicated that if he were taken before the Justice of the Peace again, he would disclose some new and vital information regarding his master's killer. On further interrogation, Perry stated that his master had been killed not by him, but by his brother and mother, who had robbed Harrison for the rent money. Perry's only involvement was to provide his mother and brother with the time and date that his master would be making his journey to Charingworth to collect the money.
Perry's mother and brother were also questioned, and then the three of them were tried and found guilty of killing William Harrison to obtain the rent money. A few days later, John, Richard and Joan Perry were taken to the top of Broadway Hill, which overlooks Chipping Campden, and hung for their supposed crimes.
The first person to be hung was Joan Perry as she was thought to be a witch and had placed a spell over her sons. Next to be hung was Richard Perry, who begged his brother John to tell the truth about the disappearance of William Harrison. But, John Perry stuck by his story and they were both duly hung.
William Harrison did return to Chipping Campden around two years later, claiming that he had been abducted by three men dressed in white on horseback. He was then taken to Deal, in Kent, and put on a ship to Turkey; where he was kept for nearly two years, until escaping with a silver bowl that had been given to him. Using this silver bowl, he was able to secure his passage back to England.